By Katherine Thompson
Photo Credit to Rolling Stone
Seldom a movie regarding a crisis that affected millions can provide a wealth of humor, characterization, and information. Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which documents the events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, does almost exactly that. The details revealed may be shocking, but the film is truly an important narrative of a not-long-past event.
The film introduces four main characters, all based on real-life players in finance, who attack the instability of the housing market well before doubts begin to surface. Of these is the glass-eyed Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the quick-tempered Mark Baum (Steve Carell), the charismatic, self-serving narrator Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), and the retired, rarely enthusiastic Ben Rickley (Brad Pitt). Prompted to take action against the corruption present in the banks, they bet against the housing market, which is practically built on nothing.
Despite compelling performances by Bale and Gosling, the strength of the film lies less in the acting, but more in its inherent cleverness. Naturally, many economic concepts are likely to go-over the viewers’ heads. As mentioned by Gosling’s character in one of his direct addresses “Mortgage-backed securities; subprime loans, tranches; it’s pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored or stupid? Well, it’s supposed to. Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they can do…” To make elements of the plot more accessible, the film occasionally cuts to explanations of such seemingly complicated economic concepts as subprime loans and CDOs. By inserting celebrity cameos, delivered by Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez, the film is made more understandable. This also lends to some of the humor of the film, since certain principles require explanation by figures in pop culture, who have little to do with the world of financial affairs.
As these people are attempting to make money at the expense of the misgivings of the banks, we are constantly reminded of the calmness and normalcy of the American people, maintained by the lack of knowledge of the deceitful deeds of the banks. Through showing flashes of television shows, inserting pop songs, and portraying average Americans going about their daily routines amidst the greediness of Wall Street, the film demonstrates the way in which the system was being taken advantage.
The film does a great job of informing those watching that what is present on the surface is not necessarily accurate. In this specific case, actions by banks were preying on those who were unaware of the consequences of their actions. The intentions of McKay towards general understanding and regulation are clear. Ultimately, despite the significant message of The Big Short, its humor and plot provide more than enough entertainment.